Vinay Sahasrabuddhe, the prabhari (in-charge) of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Madhya Pradesh, is among the key party functionaries involved in the nuts and bolts of the campaign for the upcoming assembly election. The Rajya Sabha MP is also part of the intra-party group which is deciding who the party's candidates will be in the election. In an interview with HuffPost India,Sahasrabuddhe spoke about why he thinks the Shivraj Singh Chouhan-led government will come back to power for a fourth consecutive term and why creating new opportunities for farmers with limited land is a "big challenge" for the state. Edited excerpts from an interview:
In Madhya Pradesh, this is the fourth time that the BJP is going to the electorate as an incumbent. Why should your party be voted back to power?
For practically every sector in Madhya Pradesh, I can list out achievements of our government. Let us take the example of agriculture growth rate. It was -3 when we took over, now it is in two decibels, close to 20%. Or at times even cross that, if I remember correctly. We have been talking about linking of rivers... But, you never see that the river linkage has happened right on the ground. Except for Gujarat where the Sabarmati now has Narmada waters in it. But in Madhya Pradesh, it is now a reality that Kshipra and Narmada are linked.
Take the example of this Public Service Guarantee Act, which was later on replicated by Bihar and now Maharashtra also. But where did it start? It started with Shivraj Singh Chouhan in his first tenure. Or take the example of roads. I would say that, in so far as Madhya Pradesh is concerned, the first five years of our government between 2003 and 2008, all our attention was dealing with the issues of bijli, sadak, paani (Energy, Roads and Water resources), and having overcome issues pertaining to these three things, we moved on and in the next tenure of our government, we resolutely worked at bringing out Madhya Pradesh from the BIMARU status. And the next phase, which is 2013 and 2018, we built all the necessary infrastructures required for industrial growth as well as agriculture growth.
The issues that we are now grappling are for instance arising out of abundance of things. Whether it is agriculture produce; how to deal with the market situation, the prices. Now, for example, the young farmers in Madhya Pradesh, they are happy with agriculture but are aspiring for something more. So now we have to enter into maybe food processing. There is a group actively working on our vision document which is considering whether we can open the nation's first food processing university in Madhya Pradesh. The idea is being discussed.
Madhya Pradesh has been showcasing a high agricultural growth rate, but it is also among the top three states in the number of farmer suicides. There have been many instances in the recent past of rapes in which complaints by women were lodged only after protests. The Vyapam scam has raised a question mark over the credibility of competitive examinations in the state. How do you reconcile these two realities?
It is nobody's case that when we try to offer good governance, there are no problems at all. Problems are there. Some of the problems are not our creation, they are there in the system, for that matter. Take the case of Vyapam. Software wise and everything was pretty ok, administratively. Not a single loophole (was found) when it was audited and re audited. But then if you don't get people with integrity to man the system, problems arise. And this is a situation perhaps in several cases. You talked about rapes. Of course, there is certainly nothing to defend all these kinds of things. And nobody would and should (defend). But then one must appreciate that MP is the first state to make a law which gives capital punishment to those who are committing such atrocities on juveniles. And then the nation also followed. We are taking a lead even on the count of social reforms. Our schemes go beyond routine caste considerations. Practically, I would say that the state government has addressed the problems of deprivation in all sections of the society and not just the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes. Let me make this abundantly clear.
While you say that interests of every section of society have been taken care of, the upper castes are angry with you. SAPAKS is on the rise and the so-called upper castes seem to believe that you are appeasing the 'lower' castes.
See, it is very understandable that when the Supreme Court judgement [about the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989] is analysed and then the government of the day, in tune with the desire of the entire Parliament, takes a call to undo the negative impact of the SC decision, then naturally some people will ask questions. And there absolutely is no question of any appeasement as this can't be termed as compromising with the basic tenets of the Constitution for any vote bank politics. Far from that. And people must also appreciate that what we have done is restoration of the pre-judgement situation. There is no new law. It was there. And let's not forget that this Act too, like many other legislations, provides for prevention of its misuse and our CM has already made this clear. We will protect every section of society, no matter what their social background is.
How do you propose to deal with the challenges in front of your government if re-elected? For instance, there is the crisis of farmer suicides.
Well, let us wait for the vision document of the party which is taking its final shape and it will answer most of your questions, I'm sure. What has happened is that the marginal farmers are facing all kinds of adverse situations. These situations are, in a way, pushing them towards the suicide decision. So how to save these marginal farmers? We are trying, for example, in Maharashtra also we are trying, how many more options could be provided to the next generation of farmers. In a house, they may have only 5 or 10 acres of land and if there are three brothers, then they are going to end up with some 3 acres land per person, which may not make agriculture as a viable proposition. So if you provide an alternate vocation to him which is based on agriculture, which is based on rural resources, then perhaps things could be taken care of. But how to make this happen? Because you cannot thrust anything upon anybody. Thrusting is not possible in a democratic set-up. So how to incentivise agri-based and rural-based industries and similar such professions, which may be even in the service sector, for that matter, is a big challenge and I am sure our vision document will come out with some brilliant ideas on this.
On electricity, Madhya Pradesh seems to have improved a bit in terms of production, but tariff is significantly expensive. Until recently, it was the costliest in the country.
I think it is a global challenge because sources of energy are becoming costly. Even solar is not costly anymore.
Coming back to the question of electoral politics, there seems to be substantial anti-incumbency after three continuous terms in power for the BJP. Whether it is opinion polls or recent reports that the RSS has asked the BJP not to repeat 78 sitting MLAs as candidates in the forthcoming election—all of these point towards anti-incumbency. What do you think explains this and how do you plan to address it?
I don't think there is anything which points to 'anti-incumbency'. Even this report about 78 MLAs is unfounded. I am involved in the process (of selecting candidates) and there is nothing of this kind which has been decided so far. So I think it is a figment of imagination. It has no basis in truth.
I don't have any feeling about (the existence of) anti-incumbency as such. There are certain cases where maybe one of our mayors or municipal councillors or MLAs, in rare cases, some of the MPs they do not seem to be remaining popular all along. Such cases keep happening. There is nothing new about it. Wherever it is required, we will make some changes.
But you don't feel the government as a whole is facing anti-incumbency?
I don't think so. Shivraj Singh Chouhan continues to be the most popular leader of Madhya Pradesh today. I am sure the opposition is also deeply conscious of this fact.
How do you explain the opinion polls then? They are giving the Congress party an upper hand.
I don't think. Whatever the upper hand, the surveys that I have seen, is just a wafer-thin majority. It is not a huge majority in favour of Congress. Because people are at a loss to understand who is going to be their face. And I heard Mr Digvijay Singh saying that, "If I campaign, Congress loses votes." I would say that he is perhaps stating the fact and which is not applicable to him only but to several leaders right from the top. Anybody who campaigns for the Congress, right from the top, I believe cuts into the vote share, whatsoever, of the Congress party.
It is inexplicable to me, I don't know why (the polls are giving the Congress an upper hand). Many a times opinion polls have gone wrong as well, but I don't want to question the credibility of those who have come out with these results. We will look into them. But, in general, I don't think there is any kind of anti-incumbency.
In the election campaign this time around, there seems to be competitive Hindutva at work between the Congress and BJP. For instance, Congress wants cow shelters at the district level and Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan announced, just before elections were declared, his decision to set up a cow ministry in MP.
Basically, cow protection has been a part of our guiding principles of the constitution. So to label it as a newfound love for Hindutva and other things, I don't know how appropriate it is.
BJP has every right to have Hindutva as its guiding ideology. I am not questioning that. But in an election campaign, when your stated focus is on development and achievements in governance, critics say invoking Hindutva is one way of distracting from failures in governance. So, are both parties sidelining governance-related issues to focus on Hindutva for votes?
See, if I may put it this way, the BJP has been known for both Aastha and Vyawastha. Aastha is ethos, popular belief and respecting those feelings. Vyawastha is administration, governance. Unfortunately, since Congress has nothing to tell about Vyawastha, because it is all Bantadhar (ruined), they are now trying to put their money on the horse, which is known as Aastha. We don't look at these issues as electoral planks. This has been there right since Jan Sangh days.
So, we don't believe in soft and hard Hindutva. BJP's love or commitment for cow protection has been there for decades together. There is nothing new about it. If they are copying us, they need to be answering. Why should we answer and explain their acts? Since they have nothing to report on the governance front, they are perhaps trying to play a new trick. And good luck to them, but I'm sure people are conscious about the intellectual bankruptcy with which they face the electorate.
I also asked this question because recently, the call for Ram Mandir has again grown, with RSS Sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat demanding a law for constructing the temple and BJP president Amit Shah saying the temple will be built before 2019.
I think there is only selective emphasis given by the media, largely because these issues have been there and everybody knows about BJP's commitment to constructing a temple and I would put it this way, temple is already there, what we are now aiming at is a majestic temple. That is the only unfinished agenda and we believe, as has been rightly said by Sarsanghachalakji and several party leaders also, that there are three ways and Sarsanghachalakji has suggested one way. Party leadership will consider all those issues, suggestions and take an appropriate position.
What is your opinion about the Congress campaign?
The major stumbling block that the Congress leaders are facing is that they have leaders but they don't have cadres. Because all these years, since the party couldn't get a chance at any of these levels in most cases, whether the local self-government, state government or the Parliament, so no reason for cadres to stick to the Congress party. And the Congress party, just as at the centre, in the state as well is also run by two or three dynasties. There is no reason why a political activist would want to go for the Congress party. Therefore, the Congress is a party with many leaders and very few cadres.
Critics claim BJP has been winning MP every time because the Congress party is a divided house. How would you respond to such claims?
Any success or failure depends upon a comprehensive set of reasons. Among them are a well-oiled organisation, credible leadership, uni-directional organisation that works collectively and a track record in governance.